Casey Croucher/Recorder Staff Amsterdam Police Sgt. Owen Fuhs sits at his desk, reminiscing about his years in law enforcement. He is retiring at the end of the month.
By CASEY CROUCHER
Amsterdam Police Sgt. Owen Fuhs has experienced it all in law enforcement: from working undercover, to solving cases in record timing, to mentoring new officers.
In two weeks, he'll hand over his badge, and start his years in retirement.
"This is all I've ever done," Fuhs said. "I've been working since I was 18-years-old, so I'm going to miss it a lot."
Fuhs, who's worked in law enforcement for more than 34 years, said he's retiring because he got into an accident in September, and was badly injured.
"I always told myself that if I couldn't carry my own weight, and couldn't do what I always did, then I wouldn't be one of those guys who stayed and was only half as good as he used to be," he said. "If I continued working, I'd be one of those guys."
He said it's time for him to move on to a new chapter in his life.
"It's time for the wheel to turn," he said "It's time for the younger guys to be promoted to more opportunities. There comes a time in your life when you do retire. I never thought I would, but it happens. It's time for me to go."
Fuhs enlisted in the United States Air Force for four years when he was 18-years-old. Shortly after, he worked more than 15 years at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. After being offered a position at the Amsterdam Police Department in 1995, he accepted, and has been there ever since.
Over the years, Fuhs has helped solve a lot of memorable cases.
One case he'll never forget involved a dead infant found by men operating lawn mowers in a field.
He said the baby was found in a plastic bag that had a sales receipt in it from the clothing store, Ormond Shops.
"On the sales receipt, the criminal had bought a pair of lavender pants, a white blouse and some hair products," he said. "And the dead baby was wrapped in a towel that had a rope design on it. I remember thinking to myself, 'why would someone do that to a baby?'"
Fuhs said he knew the suspect had to be from the area, and the proximity of the field had to be close to whoever did it.
"Automatic, everyday police work is a canvas, and of course your suspects are limited," he said. "Fifty percent of the population is female, and your suspect is most likely female, and of course she had to be pregnant to have a baby.
"So I checked the hospital, I checked pregnancies and then I started thinking that the suspect probably had to be close to the location the baby was found. I didn't have a lot to go on."
He started a canvas of the neighborhood and looked for houses with females and teenagers, because he had a hunch the suspect fell into those categories.
"I knocked on the door of this house near the location and a young woman with lavender pants on opened the door," he said. "And [in the kitchen] on the oven handle was the same exact type of towel the baby was wrapped in. I don't get excited easily, but I remember thinking to myself that we had figured it all out."
Fuhs said he asked the woman if she needed to talk to him and she said yes and confessed to him.
"I just had an instinct and went with it," he said. "That's a case I'll always remember. It wouldn't have happened so quickly without the rest of my team, though. I have to give credit where credit is due. Certain people said the case would never be solved, and we ended up solving it in about eight hours."
Fuhs also said he's done undercover work in the county jail, which eventually lead to drug busts.
"They had a couple of target drug dealers locked up in the jail and they put me undercover with them," he said.
Fuhs said he worked in the jail as a corrections officer prior to going undercover so he understood the "jungle mentality of the jail."
"Because I understood how things worked behind bars, and I took that knowledge with me, it paid off in the long run," he said.
He said the hardest part of his job is "taking the good with the bad."
"You can find a [police] call really trivial compared to the death notice you just put in the system," he said. "You can have a call from someone saying their garbage can keeps getting knocked over by children, and then you're forced to tell a family their loved one isn't coming home in the same day. It's all about taking the good with the bad."
He also said the job of someone in law enforcement is difficult because they can be hated and loved for the same exact thing.
"You can be a hero and a villain at the same time," he said. "Half the people hate you, and half the people love you for the same call."
He gave the example of a school bus pick-up stop where cars are speeding by; he said the parents will see him as a hero for stopping the speeders, and the speeders will hate him for giving them a ticket.
However, he said the moments of heroism stick with him more than the angry people he deals with.
He talked about a memory he had of a summer night when a girl was walking home on East Main Street alone.
"She was carrying a wedding dress, crying and walking home around 1:30 a.m.," he said. "I was on patrol that night, I pulled over and she jumped into the police car. She had been working at the adult home on Switzer Hill Road, and had been in a fashion show that day wearing the wedding dress. Her car had broken down and she was walking home in the middle of the night, terrified. I was her hero. Those little moments stick with you."
Fuhs and Mayor Ann Thane both agreed that the work done for Hurricane Irene was also very heroic.
"I'll never forget working with [Fire Chief] Richard Liberti, evacuating St. Mary's Hospital, helping everyone during the flooding, everything from that storm is something I'll always remember," he said. "The teamwork we had, and the hard work put into making everything run smoothly was monumental."
"Honestly, one of the most impressive experiences I had with Owen was the night of the flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011," Thane said. "He and Chief Liberti were the two people in charge of the command center at the public safety building. The show of professionalism and organization and commitment to the community was just unmatched. We got through a very, very tough situation because they were able to just be completely calm and direct operations so effectively. They were amazing to watch."
Police Chief Gregory Culick said he thought of Fuhs as one of the "gods of law enforcement" when he first started working in 1988.
"He always had an aura about him that made everyone know he was one of the big guys," Culick said. "I remember first starting out and asking my buddies 'Is that Fuhs?'"
Fuhs recalled his first assignment with Culick: a raid on Dean Street.
"We hit the door in on a house on Dean Street," Fuhs said. "The chief hit the door with his battering ram and we didn't know it but the guy was coming towards the door to answer it as we hit it the second time, and we went through the door. The chief, and I and the battering ram landed on top of the bad guy."
"While laying there I said to Owen, 'Well, I guess we got him," Culick said while laughing.
Culick said he immensely respects the work Fuhs has done, and will miss working with him.
"He's had an unparalleled career," he said. "He's dealt with so many facets of law enforcement and he's so well-respected and trusted."
Lt. Robert Richardson said he started at the police department the same year Fuhs did.
"He was a wealth of knowledge," Richardson said. "He was a law enforcement father figure to me. He would give me the best advice, even on the phone late at night. I was just a rookie and I really looked up to him.
"I still do," Richardson said.
Richardson recalled a time when he was questioning a suspect in a child sex abuse case, and Fuhs helped him.
"Sgt. Fuhs is so talented in getting people to confess," he said. "This one time, I was in the interview room trying to get the suspect to confess. It took about four and a half hours until he confessed, but he finally did. I had Fuhs there the whole time, outside of the room, saying things like 'He's going to tell you, kid. He wants to tell you.' He was pacing outside of the door, and I knew he could have gotten the guy to confess in a few minutes, but he wanted me to learn. He wanted me to do it, and I did."
Richardson said the department will be losing a "pillar of strength" when Fuhs retires and it will require a lot of professional training to have someone "fill his big shoes."
Det. Lt. Kurt Conroy also said Fuhs helped him learn a lot when he first started out.
"When I was young, he was the guy that brought us under his wing," Conroy said.
Conroy talked about a homicide case he worked on with Fuhs.
"We had the female suspect in the interview room," he said, "Owen saw that I had a good rapport happening with the suspect, so he put his ego aside and left the room so that I could get the confession from her. He taught me that you can't let your ego get in the way of your job. He knew I was developing a good rapport with the girl and he knew I'd get that confession, so he left."
Conroy said he wishes Fuhs the best in his retirement and he'll be deeply missed at the department.
Thane said she's sad Fuhs is retiring, but he deserves the time off.
"[Fuhs] has been tremendously helpful to me over the years," Thane said. "He's taken me out after huge snow storms to assess the roads so that I understood what the problems would be in the city as far as plowing and parking and where there might be danger. He's been involved with the Neighborhood Watch Association events around the city, and he's just a tremendous asset. I'm so sad that he's going but I'm happy for him at the same time. Retirement is a nice thing."
As for Fuhs, he said he plans on traveling to the Grand Canyon and other places during his time off, but he plans of visiting his co-workers from time-to-time as well.
"I made some of my best friends ever in law enforcement," he said. "I can't just say good-bye forever. There's a bond between us. How many people have experienced and shared death? We all see death but not like cops do. Those things create deep bonds. This is our house, the department, where we can talk about the things we've seen and experienced with each other, you just can't do that anywhere else. I'm going to miss this place and these people."